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Mosque attack in Sinai. ISIS elimination was an optical illusion
Photo: Reuters
Alex Fishman
The Middle East just keeps bleeding, with no end in sight
Op-ed: Friday’s mosque massacre must serve as a wake-up call for the Egyptian authorities. Without recruiting the Sinai population for the fight, the Second Field Army will keep marking time there for many years to come, just like the Syrian and Russian armies and their allies will keep sinking into the Syrian mud.
Everything is stuck. The past weekend proved we shouldn’t expect a dramatic changeover in the Middle East anytime soon: The Russians have yet to curb the internal unrest in Syria, the Egyptians have been unsuccessful in pushing the Islamic State organization out of Sinai, and the Cairo talks revealed there is no real sign of reconciliation between the Palestinians.

 

 

It’s all just manipulations of the public opinion, wishful thinking, headlines that don’t hold water, and empty documents, like the ones that came out of the Sochi summit about Syria and from the Palestinian factions’ summit in Cairo.

 

The Middle East is stuck in the same place, and bleeding. After people already eulogized ISIS and declared the Islamic State’s collapse in Syria and in Iraq, its members bathed northern Sinai with the blood of more than 300 Egyptian citizens over the weekend.

 

Friday's mosque attack in Sinai. Egypt created the impression that the elimination of the ISIS threat was already in the horizon (Photo: Reuters)
Friday's mosque attack in Sinai. Egypt created the impression that the elimination of the ISIS threat was already in the horizon (Photo: Reuters)

 

We have been hearing for weeks now that the blows ISIS suffered in Sinai and the agreements between Egypt and Hamas have weakened the terror group in the peninsula and cut its number of fighters by half. The Egyptians boasted of their work in the past year vis-à-vis the Bedouin tribes in Sinai, which included investments in infrastructure and in tourism and providing workplaces for the Bedouins in Egypt itself and in the Canal cities.

 

Egypt created the impression that eliminating the ISIS threat in Sinai was already on the horizon. On Friday, it turned out it was an optical illusion. The Egyptians didn’t really change their national list of priorities and didn't really stop neglecting the remote province in Sinai.

 

Friday’s massacre must serve as a wake-up call for the Egyptian authorities. Without recruiting the Sinai population for the fight, the Second Field Army will keep marking time and bleeding there for many years to come. Just like the Syrian army, the Russian army and their allies—the Turks and the Iranians—will keep marking time in Syria in an effort to put out the fires of civil disobedience, jihadist movements and the Kurds.

 

The summit organized by President Vladimir Putin in Sochi last week with his two partners to the “victory” in Syria—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—was dubbed by some in the Russian media as “the second Yalta Conference.” In the first conference, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin Roosevelt and Russian Prime Minister Joseph Stalin divided Europe after World War II. Here they divided Syria. Vive la difference.

 

From left to right: Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan in Sochi last week. Conflicting interests won’t allow an agreement (Photo: Reuters)
From left to right: Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan in Sochi last week. Conflicting interests won’t allow an agreement (Photo: Reuters)

 

The results of the Sochi summit were a meaningless document, filled with words of bragging, declaring that the three leaders are hoping for “UN-sponsored, democratic and transparent elections in Syria”—which goes to show that nothing realistic will come out of there. According to Russian sources, there were more disagreements than agreements there.

 

Additional meetings will be held in the near future between the foreign ministers and chiefs of staffs, who will try to come up with an acceptable plan that will serve the three parties’ interests. The meeting planned for this week between representatives of the Syrian tribes, which were supposed to reconcile with the Assad regime, was also postponed to late December.

  

At the same time, the Russians keep planting their feet in every place in the Middle East that they can find a foothold. Russian Foreign Intelligence Director Sergey Naryshkin paid a rare visit to the Palestinian Authority and to his counterparts in Israel over the weekend. What is he doing here? Where in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the Russians trying to plant their feet?

 

The Cairo summit produced empty declarations as well. It was a conference between 11 Palestinian organizations discussing a position paper that was likely worded by the Egyptian intelligence services. None of the organizations signed the paper, and they aren’t committed to it in any event.

 

The purpose of the conference was to give a real push to the reconciliation process, with the cherry on the top being regular opening of the Rafah Crossing. That didn’t happen. Just like the civil control of the Gaza Strip hasn't really been handed over to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The announcement that came out of the summit about holding general elections in the PA by the end of 2018 isn’t worth much either, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can postpone it as much as he wants.

 

So whoever feared Russian-Iranian-sponsored peace and tranquility in Syria can calm down. There is no agreement in Syria, the Americans aren’t leaving yet, the partners to the “victory” have conflicting interests that won’t allow an agreement leading to governmental stability, and the civil war will break out again. Those who were concerned about a Palestinian reconciliation agreement can heave a sigh of relief too.

 

Because of manipulations by political leaders and the illusion of a solution among the Palestinians in Gaza, Israel must prepare for the possibility of a violent outbreak, mainly from the strip, in light of the population’s frustration and shattered expectations.

 

And in Sinai, as people here warned after it lost its territorial strongholds in Iraq and in Syria, ISIS will turn into a murderous organization that will mainly target civilians wherever it succeeds in planting cells and expanding.

 

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